Active Traveller

Cruising - On Board Off Map

A cruise can be the best - and sometimes the only - cay to see the world's most inaccessible places. Cruises expert Gary Buchanan selects his seven most enticing remote voyages.

Castaway Paradise South Pacific

Join one of the rare clutch of cruises that travel to isolated, barely touched specks on the planet. The first port of call sets the tone: Robinson Crusoe Island, more than 650km off the Chilean coast, where Alexander Selkirk was marooned as a castaway in 1704.

There is arguably nowhere on earth more evocative of castaway desert island living than the South Pacific. A clichéd notion, perhaps, but the reality isn’t far from how you imagine it. See for yourself with Oceania Cruises, which has a Pacific Paradise voyage from Valparaiso, Chile, to Papeete, the captivating capital of Tahiti.

After Robinson Crusoe Island, you’ll head west to Easter Island, enjoying four lazy days at sea, the soporific air tempered by the southeast trade winds. Few places feel as lost in time as Easter Island: it is home to the enigmatic moai – the enormous stone figures, up to ten metres tall, whose origin has generated theories as bizarre as the statues themselves. 

After two more days sailing the turquoise waters of the South Pacific, the cruise stops at Pitcairn Island. Here, the population of around 50 people – most of whom are descended from Fletcher Christian and his fellow Bounty mutineers – come out to greet their visitors. This remains one of the world’s most remote islands, and a visit is still regarded by locals as something of note.

Tahiti is as seductive as the artist Paul Gauguin found it in the 19th century. The islands of French Polynesia are the embodiment of a tropical idyll, with palm trees swaying in the wind, the sea a startling shade of blue and shades a necessity rather than a fashion statement. The islands are still very French in outlook and have the joie de vivre to go with it. Other stops on the trip include Fakarava and Bora Bora in French Polynesia.

Travel Details

An 18-day Pacific Paradise cruise
departs 28 December 2013 and costs from £3,834pp,
cruise only. oceaniacruises.com

The Frozen North Greenland

For centuries, visitors to Greenland have been attracted to the narrow strip of inhabitable land between the vast ice-cap and the Davis Strait. The world’s largest island is also its least densely populated country, but a few expedition style cruise ships now venture to this birthplace of icebergs.

A taste of the natural wonders ahead comes at Qeqertarsuaq on the southern tip of Disko Island, where high basalt cliffs tower above the village, and you can take the stunning hike to Blæsdal – ‘Valley of the Winds’. At Sisimiut, the bleakness of the Kaellingehaetten Mountain is relieved by the brightness of the houses draped across a steep rocky hillside that, on the cusp between spring and summer, is briefly frescoed with flowers.

Heading north, the dazzling icy world is both serene yet savage – a juxtaposition of ethereal beauty and brutal nature. Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2004, the Ilulissat Icefjord runs 40km from the Greenland ice-sheet to Disko Bay. At the eastern end is the Jakobshavn Isbræ Glacier, the most productive glacier in the northern hemisphere. Aboard zodiacs (inflatable boats, made more surreal by the omnipresent sun), you glide through canyons of the whitest ice, skirting massive tabular icebergs and smaller floating works of art sculpted by nature, illuminated in a spectrum of vivid shades of turquoise.

The silence is broken by thunderous roars as gigantic slabs of ice calve from bergs and crash into the tranquil sea. You may also see the surface of the ice-strewn sea suddenly erupt as mother and calf humpback whales spout and arch.

Travel Details

Hapag Lloyd Cruises’ 18-day voyage aboard
its Hanseatic boat departs Spitsbergen for Iceland and
Kangerlussuaq in Greenland on 14 July 2013 with prices
from £8,211, cruise only. hl-cruises.com

Expeditions on ice Antarctica

Sailing through ice is one of the most exciting experiences offered on an expedition cruise, giving you the chance to see truly remote, pristine scenery. On Silversea’s Classic Antarctica cruise, you will travel south from Ushuaia in Argentina, through the Drake Passage – which is rich in birdlife – and around the Antarctic Peninsula. 

Among the cruise’s many stop-offs and zodiac outings, you will see the South Shetland Islands, where you can get close to penguins, Brown Bluff on the Tabarin Peninsula – an ice-capped, 745 metre-high mountain – and Paradise Bay, with its spectacular views of glaciers and icebergs. Here you’ll set foot on the continent of Antarctica. 

Silver Explorer is the smallest ship in Silversea’s fleet (she takes just 132 passengers) and is reinforced to sail through ice. Its passengers tend to be younger and fitter, and wildlife enthusiasts. On this trip you will see elephant seals, humpback, minke and orca whales, gentoo, chinstrap and Adelie penguins, and a huge variety of seabirds, from Antarctic cormorants to Wilson’s storm petrels.

Informative talks from naturalists and geologists, who will brief you every evening and accompany you on visits, provide an educational edge to the exquisite sightseeing.

Travel Details

A ten-night Classic Antarctica
voyage departing on 21 January 2014 costs from
£7,550, all inclusive. silversea.com

The Spice Islands Indonesia

Indonesia’s ‘Spice Islands’, better known as the Maluku Islands, straddle the equator and, despite forming part of the largest archipelago in the world, with a long history of trade, still feel remote and exotic. There are around 1,000 of them; they are largely unspoilt, have coral reefs and ancient cultural traditions. Many of them – because they are difficult to access or uninhabited – are completely off the tourist track. 

Cruising across the limpid seas that separate this network of islands evokes visions of 17th-century Dutch sailors, who traded in the precious aromatic spices that grow here. The history of this region, and its relationship with the rest of the world, is fascinating, and the culture on each island is still proud and individual. Colourful artworks reflect centuries of artisans’ traditions, a human element alongside a massively diverse flora and fauna.

Orion Expedition Cruises offers a voyage that begins in Bali – the ‘Island of the Gods’ – before visiting Komodo, where you can see the extraordinary, pre-historic dragons that take their name from the island. It continues to enigmatic Yamdena, a Christian island where ancestor worship is still practised, and Kisar, with its 400 years of European colonial history. After exploring Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, the cruise concludes in Cairns in the north of Queensland, Australia.

Travel Details

A ten-night Spice and Forgotten Islands cruise
with Orion Expeditions departs 28 November 2013. From £4,915,
cruise only. orientexpeditions.com
Crystal Cruises also offers a Spice Islands cruise; its 12-night Java
Sea Jewels expedition, departing Bali on 28 February 2014 and
travelling through Indonesia’s Maluku Islands to Singapore, costs
from £2,698, cruise only. crystalcruises.co.uk

Indian Atoll The Andaman Islands

Small, low-key and exclusive, SeaDream Yacht Club is a world away from the brash big ships. Defined by a soignée lifestyle and recherché ports rather than extravagant entertainment and a surfeit of restaurants, it has introduced a new voyage this year, exploring the remote Andaman Islands – an archipelago in the Indian Ocean around 1,000km off the east coast of India. The islands are home to some of the most ancient, reclusive indigenous tribes to be found anywhere on earth, although new legislation means those in the thick northern jungle of South Andaman are now off limits to outsiders. Foreigners did venture here – the first Western visitor was Marco Polo, who called the atolls ‘land of the head-hunters’ (cannibalism was said to be practised here). Whatever gruesome sights he may have seen, he also discovered a thick carpet of tropical rainforest – home to a remarkable variety of rare birds and animals. 

The 200 islands have curious names, such as Jolly Boy Island, Egg Island. On this trip, you’ll also see the islands’ vibrant modern street life. The capital, Port Blair, is a cacophony of tooting horns from tri-shaws playing loud Indian music as they thread their way through wandering herds of cows and goats, buses and cars, motorbikes and pedestrians – the brilliant, intoxicating colours and sounds of daily Indian life. This cruise is varied in its pace and in the sights it offers, so there’s no chance of it ever feeling repetitive. It departs from Mumbai, and calls at Goa, Kochi and Colombo. After touring the wonderful Andaman Islands you will also stop off at Phuket and Langkawi before finishing your journey in Singapore.
 

Travel Details

This 13-night cruise departs 27 October 2013 and
costs from £3,437, cruise only. seadream.com

Wild World Galapagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands, some 970km off Ecuador’s Pacific coast, formed a crucial part of Charles Darwin’s research and subsequent theories that he documented in The Origin of Species – a book that changed the world and our understanding of it. Darwin was fascinated by this ecological wonderland, comprised of just 13 main islands, formed five million years ago by erupting volcanoes. They owe their idiosyncrasy to the fact that while they are located in the equatorial belt, they are cooled by the Humboldt Current flowing north from Antarctica.

Celebrity Cruises takes you from one island to the next, following in Darwin’s footsteps. You will have the privilege of close encounters with some of the most impressive animals on earth, including marine iguanas, frigate birds, sea lions and giant tortoises.

Regular zodiac expeditions from the ship will take you to volcanic beaches where you can relax next to snoozing seabirds while mockingbirds peck at your toes. You can also swim with turtles, penguins and hammerhead sharks and stroll through cacophonous colonies of sea birds.

The package includes a two-night pre-cruise stay in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, perched at 2,800m in the Andes – a handsome Spanish colonial town that has been smartened up a great deal in recent years. It boasts broad cobbled plazas, pretty whitewashed buildings, ornate cathedrals and excellent street food: a tasty starter before the Galapagos take centre stage.

Travel Details

An 11-night fly/cruise operates year-round and
costs from £4,893. celebritycruises.co.uk

Sea of Cortez Mexico

A handful of cruises set a course not just off the beaten track, but to the very edges of the map. South of California, in an inlet between Baja California Peninsula and the Mexican mainland, lies the Sea of Cortez, one of the world’s most beautiful, vibrant marine environments. Legendary oceanographer Jacques Cousteau called this inland sea ‘the aquarium of the world’ and ‘the largest diversity of life on earth’ – a pristine state enhanced by being off-limits to large cruise ships.

Because of its ecological significance, the Sea of Cortez has Unesco Biosphere Reserve status. Azamara Club Cruises has a voyage on a 694-guest ship that it labels a ‘destination immersion’ experience, charting a voyage that promises a sense of utter dislocation and seclusion. The rugged, varied landscape of the Baja California peninsula is wild and beautiful – you’ll pass by coastal mangroves and dunes, desert scrub and red rock cliffs. But it is the warm sea, teeming with wildlife (it contains more than 800 species of marine vertebrates) that will have you reaching for your camera.

From the ship, you’ll spot huge pods of dolphins – super pods can sometime include thousands of members peppering the surface of the sea in spectacular fashion – and a remarkable 12 species of whale. Undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable parts of the voyage is a visit to a sealion colony, where you’ll have the opportunity to go swimming or snorkelling with the very playful juveniles.

Travel Details

Azamara Club Cruises 12-night Sea of Cortez and
Copper Canyon voyage departs Los Angeles on 29 January 2014.
From £2,461pp, cruise only. azamaraclubcruises.co.uk

This article was published on 1st April 2013 so certain details may not be up to date.

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